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Wyoming’s Green River Lakes
Gracing the north end of the fabled Wind River Mountains lie the Green River Lakes, a couple of blue/green gems that double as a large reflecting pools for Square Top mountain that towers above. Square Top’s, well, square top is accentuated by the 4,000 foot granite face that falls at a right angle off from the peak. Lying in a hole behind a glacier-moraine where the glaciers deserted at the conclusion of the Pinedale glaciation, Green River Lake stretches out from the northern shore to the distant mountain three miles distant. The Lake is a perfect centerpiece to showcase the rugged beauty of the Bridger Wilderness to make what I consider a compositionally perfect landscape.
The lake’s mirror surface is often disturbed by the paddle of a canoer or more often, the damn wind. This view of the Bridger Wilderness and the towering peaks of the Winds is perhaps the most frequently photographed non-national park landscape in Wyoming. Evidence of the Pinedale Glaciation abound throughout the valley and we are thankful for ice ages past that have hewn this magnificent landscape for us to enjoy.
Spilling from the outlet of Lower Green River Lake is the genesis of the mighty Green River, the chief tributary to the Colorado River. The Green River runs 730 miles through Wyoming, Utah where it hooks up with the Colorado River that eventually terminates in northern Mexico. To the delight of many the upper reaches of the Green River is a blue ribbon fishery.
The skeleton of a formerly very exclusive guest ranch add to the picturesque beauty and intrigue of the area. A photogenic derelict sod roof log cabin and a few outbuildings of what once was the Gannett Peak Guest Ranch stand in testament of golden olden days gone by.
The Wind River Mountains’ highline trail starts here and heads south along the backbone of the Winds to the high alpine peaks where it a access’ hundreds of glacial lakes for the fisherman and mountains for the climber. Soon after crossing the foot bridge over the Green River to the east side of the lake you soon enter a series of aspen groves which make great foreground elements for framing the lake and Squaretop Peak for photos. Along the 150 miles of the highline trail can be found Wyoming’s two highest mountains, Fremont, and Gannett Peaks, Dinwoody Glacier and Cirque of the Towers.
The fishing at Green River Lakes can be really good and there some lunkers lurking there. Green River Lakes produced the Wyoming state record brook trout that weighed in at 9 pounds, 11 oz and was 24-1/2 inches-long. It is also an angler’s paradise being home to the Mackinaw (lake trout), brook, rainbow, brown, and trout. Cutthroat trout, the only fish species native to Wyoming, are found in Green River Lakes. For the fly-fisherman and the ambitious like to hike up to the many lake above Green River Lakes in search of Wind River Golden Trout some of which reach five pounds. Wind River legend Finis Mitchell, planted most of the lakes of the Wind River Mountains with trout in the 1930’s and 40’s when he packed them up there with pack horses in old milk jugs. An effort enjoyed and appreciated by thousands of fishermen since.
There is something around the Green River Lakes for everyone. Canoeing on the lakes is very popular as it is tough to find a prettier place to plant a canoe paddle but a word of caution, when afternoon rolls around be on the lookout for thunderstorms as they can blow up dangerous waves on the lake.
Motorized boats are allowed on the lower lake; however, the earthen boat ramp is suitable only for smaller vessels. Upper Green River Lake being within the Bridger Wilderness Area is closed to motorized boats but you can drag a canoe up the short Green River Channel that separates the two. Jet skis and other personal watercraft are not allowed.
for those who enjoy bushwhacking is available anywhere in the National Forest along the Green River Lakes road for those who disdain developed campgrounds. Many places already have fire rings and cleared areas for campfires for those prepared and equipped to dry camp. Campers are encouraged to use existing dispersed spots to have less of an impact on the landscape. Campfires are allowed in these locations as long as campfire restrictions are not in effect due to high fire danger. Note that this is designated grizzly bear habitat and food storage regulations apply for both the campground and backcountry users.
My favorite time to photograph Green River Lakes is in Fall. The peak of the Aspen foliage is usually around the 20th of September and to shoot them you must hike about a mile up the highline trail before you get to the good groves.
This majestic wonder is 52 miles north of Pinedale Wyoming. A miserable gravel road follows the Green River upstream from the high sagebrush-covered prairie of Pinedale to this photographer’s nirvana. The Forest Service says it is one and a half hours to Green River Lake campground from Pinedale, Wyoming. It will take all of this plus a bit more, a lot more when the clay road turns to slime in the rain. About half the distance is on nice paved road, but don’t get comfortable as 17-miles of washboard forest service road await where women wish they had worn sports bras and men wonder why they didn’t remind them to. The Wind River Range is almost as spectacular as the Grand Tetons, however this range is remarkably and delightfully empty, I hope they never improve the road.